Country music is arguably the most hated genre of music. Even the most loyal listeners find it difficult to listen to the pop tunes coming out of Nashville these days.
Country music was created by blacks and European immigrants in the 17th century, and it has slowly branched out into different subgenres. Country songs opposed the status quo, like Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons,” a moody ballad about greedy coal barons, and Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill,” a song promoting the use of birth control pills. However, after the events of September 11, country music became progressively whiter and more patriotic, although this “patriotism” often borders on outright nationalism.
The good news is that a handful of country and American music artists are tracing country music back to its diverse and popular roots. Here are a few :
Charley Crockett, of Black, Cajun, Creole, and Jewish descent, spent his formative years in a trailer park in Texas before becoming a globetrotter, playing in every place he could, from the streets of New Orleans to the New York subways. His complex identity is reflected in the different themes that his music covers. For someone who has released 10 albums in just six years, you don’t know what the best dressed man in country music is going to sing next.
In his 2020 album “Welcome to Hard Times,” Crockett touches on everything from chain gangs in his moving rendition of “Blackjack County Chains” to our economically and politically rigged world in the album’s main track.
Tyler Childers is about as authentically Appalachian as he gets, and this Kentucky son is perhaps one of the greatest storytellers of our time. You can just hear the emotion and authenticity of the songs that tell about his first-hand experience as an Appalachian.
More recently, Childers has made it clear that he is not afraid to use his music to push back against so-called Southern values. In his album “Long Violent History”, he first offered listeners some violin tunes before catching them off guard with the last song on the album – his title track.
In “Long Violent History,” Childers asks white Southerners – and others who have shown contempt for the Black Lives Matter movement – how they would feel if “the smallest interaction with an official” could lead to assault. or death. Additionally, Childers gives listeners a history lesson, vividly describing the Battle of Blair Mountain, where coal miners took up arms against scabs, lawyers and ultimately the U.S. military during the biggest union uprising since the Civil War.
During his Saturday Night Live debut, Sturgill Simpson was first introduced to the average American audience when his energetic “Call to Arms” nearly threatened to blow up the studio. Perhaps one of his most politically and socially critical songs to date, “Call to Arms” is a rockabilly critique of the military-industrial complex – Simpson says he is braver to resist propaganda recruiting than being a military puppet.
Canada’s masked baritone is perhaps the best response to a socially conservative genre. If her country-bumpkin version of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” doesn’t embody the outlaw country, I don’t know what does.
He performs cranky western and country ballads so well that it’s hard to imagine country music without his hits like “Dead of Night”, “Queen of the Rodeo” and “No Glory in the West” . Orville is also not afraid to incorporate different cultural spheres into his work: he covered the country classic “Jackson” with drag star Trixie Mattel on his EP, “Full Coverage, Vol. 1.”
Brandi Carlile’s music expands many genres, but her country roots are unmistakable. She has been influenced by country legends such as Patsy Cline and Tanya Tucker and has successfully shaped the genre to accurately represent it and reach a wider audience.
Her song, “The Joke,” is a powerful empowerment hymn in itself, but it also reflects everything from sexual orientation to the refugee experience. His all-female country supergroup, The Highwomen, “Party of One” and “Crowded Table” are also worth a look.
Yolanda Quartey, also known as “Yola”, grew up in Bristol, England. Yet you wouldn’t be able to tell it simply through his music. Just close your eyes and listen to “Walk Through Fire” or more soulful songs like “Starlight”, “Diamond Studded Shoes” and “Hold On” and you will think you are listening to the second coming of Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin – two artists who left their mark on country music or were inspired by it.
Yola reminds us that country is not a genre restricted to a region, a country or a nationality. It’s a genre founded by people from all walks of life who sing about their lives.
Quynh Anh Nguyen is a sophomore who writes on current political events as an Asian and California American southerner. His column, “I Reckon”, is broadcast every other Tuesday.